Interpretations differ on cellulosic biofuel ruling

The petroleum industry and biofuels advocates have differing interpretations of last week’s D.C. circuit court ruling involving cellulosic biofuels.

The American Petroleum Institute (API) hailed the ruling, which vacates the 2012 cellulosic biofuel standard, as a “decision to end mandates for non-existent biofuels.”

However, Renewable Fuels Association president and CEO Bob Dinneen says that’s not what it is. 

“The mandate for cellulosic ethanol is not ended by this decision in any way, shape or form,” Dinneen says. “Their (API’s) characterization of the court’s decision was really the height of deception.”

Dinneen explains that the court decision simply means that EPA has to have better justification for cellulosic biofuel target numbers under the Renewable Fuels Standard.

“They (EPA) couldn’t create an incentive for investment—all they can do is make a clear-headed decision on what is likely to be produced,” he says. “So the court just remanded it the agency.  EPA is going to have to take a look at the data again.  They could come back with the same exact number—and just say ‘this is what we believe, based on the information we have , is likely to be produced’.”

A handful of advanced biofuels companies are on the verge of putting commercial facilities on line and Dinneen believes that the petroleum industry is very concerned about the potential of cellulosic biofuels to take over a greater percentage of the gasoline market.

“If these companies are successful—and you see the commercialization of these new technologies using new feedstocks—then the inexorable march away from petroleum will absolutely continue,” says Dinneen.

“They’re not happy about having lost ten percent of the barrel.  They are apoplectic about the potential of losing even more of it to the cellulosic ethanol and other new biofuels.”

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